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$1.7M Game Changer: Inside Pivotal Moment That Shifted Odds for Police Officer Suing CCSU Over Rape

Aug 26 2020

As it appeared on the Connecticut Law Tribune

New Haven attorney Nina Pirrotti has clinched a $1.75 million settlement for her client, known as Jane Doe, who alleged she was sexual harassed and raped while a CCSU police officer.

By Robert Storace

An employment and civil rights attorney’s reliance on Title IX laws helped clinch a $1.75 million settlement for her client, a female police officer who alleged a former Central Connecticut State University police colleague raped her.

That strategy secured the settlement, which was reached in early July and announced Wednesday. It helped direct the plaintiff’s approach to the lawsuit, which claimed co-workers and superiors sexually harassed the woman, referred to in court documents as Jane Doe.
It paid off when U.S. District Judge Michael Shea denied the university’s motion to dismiss under Title IX, which is part of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Plaintiff’s counsel Nina Pirrotti said that decision likely played an important role in bringing about a successful resolution of the matter in a mediation before Magistrate Judge Donna Martinez.
“It was a game changer in this case, because compensatory and punitive damages are capped under Title VII, but not under Title IX,” said Pirrotti, a partner with Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti in New Haven. ”It’s important to understand that the university moved to dismiss the Title IX claim on the grounds that it only protects students and not employees.”

To persuade the judge, Pirrotti pointed to U.S. Supreme Court precedent, saying Title IX should be interpreted broadly. Within the broad framework of that high court case, no person should be subjected to discrimination under an education program or activity that benefits from federal funding or assistance.

In other words, the attorneys argued, federal law protected their client.

“It doesn’t say, ‘no student,’” Pirrotti said. “It says, ‘no person.’”

‘Loud and clear message’
“Title IX protects against all forms of discrimination based on sex, and that includes hostile work environment and deliberate indifference and retaliation,” added Pirrotti, who has spoken nationally on the #MeToo movement and gender equality. “It is my hope that successes like this one send a message to attorneys to not be afraid to take on these important and challenging cases.”

Pirrotti claimed the allegations supported that there was a “rape culture” at the university at the time. Jane Doe was a university officer from 2010 to July 2018 when she went on leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. She never returned. Doe alleges she was raped twice in the summer of 2014 and once again in the fall of 2016 by the officer.

“With each survivor who comes forward, we move our society further along toward eliminating or at least minimizing the likelihood of this culture,” said Pirrotti, who refers to Jane Doe as a “hero.”

Pirrotti said Jane Doe reported the alleged rapes to campus police. They did not investigate her allegations for almost a year, Pirrotti said. Jane Doe has not pursued criminal charges.

The lawsuit alleged Doe’s supervisors and co-workers retaliated against her for reporting the conduct by denying her backup when she needed it.

The police officer who allegedly assaulted Jane Doe was eventually fired.

Pirrotti states that the allegations demonstrates that “this was not an isolated incident of this one rogue actor,” Pirrotti said. “There were many players. There were those who just stood silent and did nothing after she reported this to those who actively engaged in sexually harassing comments both inside the police department and toward students. There were also those who sexually assaulted my client by touching her inappropriately.”

The lawsuit was filed in March 2019. It came on the heels of a Shipman & Goodwin independent investigation of the university’s Police Department that concluded “sexual misconduct and assault was inevitable” in the environment within the school’s police force, according to the lawsuit.

Pirrotti says she believes the university has since “made some strides, but there is still unfortunately a long way to go.”

Representing the university is Carletha Texidor, an attorney with the Office of the Connecticut Attorney General. Elizabeth Benton, a spokesperson for the office, declined to comment.

Janice Palmer, director of university public relations, issued a statement from the institution’s president.

“In working with the Attorney General’s Office, CCSU settled the sexual assault case brought by a woman police officer against a male police officer. The university terminated the male officer in fall 2018,” university president Zulma Toro said in the statement. “This case was one of several brought to light when President Toro arrived at CCSU, and she has worked to transform the campus culture, while sending a loud and clear message that sexual misconduct and bullying are not tolerated at CCSU.”

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